ocalist Maureen Spillane, multi-instrumentalist Locksley Taylor, and drummer Dean Williams comprise QuasiMojo, whose Savant Garde both impresses and disappoints. The three are obviously accomplished musicians and programmers, their songs are delivered with passion and enthusiasm and the recording’s production values are polished. So what’s not to like? Overall, the recording is too derivative, and consequently the band lacks a unique sound and personality. Too many tracks sacrifice strong melodies for run-on grooves which consequently renders the songs less distinctive.
Savant Garde certainly starts impressively with the mesmerizing ‘Radio Alphabet India,’ a hypnotic drone of multi-layered vocals and keyboards powered by a pummeling drum pattern. The second song, ‘Contact Cement,’ is also strong, with Spillane’s processed, cut-up vocals voicing the endearing melodic hook (“You can synthesize my voice”) against a fulsome backdrop of clicking beats. The high standard is maintained with the third song, ‘Tristan Isolde / Mylie’s Got Something Worth Sleeping For.’ It begins with a gentle guitar theme and then segues into a music box episode gradually joined by dense layers of beats and guitars. The Eastern influence that seeps through the undulating melodies of tracks one and three makes for compelling listening.
But then Savant Garde takes a weaker turn with the fourth song. A frenetic beat dominates the atmospheric ‘Orange Room’ but the song’s melody amounts to little more than two wavering notes, and the addition of heavier guitars does little to render the track more memorable when there’s so little melodically to distinguish it. Much like the later ‘Robot Sonnet,’ the track is ultimately more a showcase for Dean Williams’ inventive drum patterns than anything else. The subsequent instrumental ‘Mangina!’ is notable for its funky synths and snapping snares, but it too is diminished by a lack of melodic development.
Following upon these two instrumentals, the sixth song, ‘Horse-faced Woman,’ makes clear that the recording’s strongest tracks are those with vocals. Aside from the fact that Spillane’s breathy style echoes Portishead’s Beth Gibbons too noticeably, the song’s mournful melody and desperate air make a lasting impression. It’s distinguished as well by its dulcimer-like background and piano textures, although the aggro backing of raw guitars and intricate martial drum patterns suggests a Curve style too vividly.
Thenceforth, instrumentals predominate, be it the gentle ‘Stephanie’s Theme’ with its shuffle rhythm and dreamy guitar strummings, or the noisier ‘Sagebrush’ and ‘Opening Scene.’ But even the instrumentals sound too derivative. While the vocal songs evoke Portishead, Curve, and Bowery Electric, the instrumentals call to mind Funkstörung (the squelchy, broken beats on ‘Sagebrush’ and the closing hidden track) and The Third Eye Foundation (the clipped breakbeats on ‘Robot Sonnet’).
Given its members’ talents, QuasiMojo has great potential but, presently, too many of Savant Garde’s songs lack memorable melodies and compositions for it to be recommended without qualification. Too often, its tracks become mere grooves, with busy beats the focal point and the melody defined too often by simple wavering chords. The recording suggests that the band has weaned itself on a healthy diet of indie rock, electronica, shoegazing, drum’n’bass, and triphop, but a more unique sound and stronger caliber of songwriting need to develop for the band to move beyond those influences.
Reviewed by: Ronald Schepper
Reviewed on: 2003-09-22